Knowledge and Leisure

This article – about not over-pressuring children – was linked at the Ambleside Online forums, and I just love the first section:

When an examiner is drawing up his questions, if he would ask himself: Are these tests of real knowledge? What effect will this paper have upon teaching? And if he would then erase all such questions as can be answered by “cram,” that is by unreal knowledge, he alone could deliver us from over-pressure. How? Real knowledge is digested knowledge, digested knowledge means leisure.

Yes, if in the school-day of every boy and girl, and the reading-day of every student, there were sufficient leisure to digest newly-acquired knowledge, there could be no over-pressure.

This mental digestion is not a rapid process; gradually fresh facts sink into the mind, associating themselves to facts already there, pictured in the imagination, weighed and accepted by reason, brooded over and developed; slowly new ideas take root, finding through many channels a resting-place in the intelligence, and mysteriously cherished till the day comes when they shall bear fruit. This operation cannot be hurried; every child, every youth and maiden will digest their knowledge in their own way and at their own pace; all that is wanted is leisure and rest.

Knowledge acquired in any other way is absolutely worthless and temporary; it leads nowhere and to nothing; it is do much unassimilated mental food doomed to be rejected.

Leisure is not laziness, in fact, it is necessary for a truly educated people.

And further down in the article:

An average of three hours’ brain work a day for boys and girls from eight to sixteen, and the addition of another hour or two after that age, will be found quite sufficient. There is so much to do that is not brain work , and that ought not be omitted, how can time be found for more than three hours a day, if the necessary interval is allowed for leisure and rest? …

…Three hours a day for brain work leaves time for physical training, for art, for leisure, rest and enjoyment-during some of which, consciously or unconsciously, the mind carries on its work of digestion. No more pressure and hurry, no wearing out of eyesight by evening work, no pale cheeks and stooping shoulders, no anxiety, no break-down when the examination is within sight, no after-loathing of study, no loss of enthusiasm and joyousness.

Less is more.


  1. Missy

    I had not seen this article yet. The more things change the more things stay the same. To think that people feel we have been “over-pressuring” our children for over 100 years! Helps to remember that 3 hours truly are enough if you have taught your students to focus and to use the other time wisely. Thanks!

  2. Cindy

    I agree with Missy that is is amazing that this has been going on for so long. So many thoughts. I wonder about the public schools. How much brain work is being done in a 7 hour day? Very little I guess and nothing which captures the imaginations of the learner, I would guess. But then some schools are so rigorous that they wear out the child with school work and homework.


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